"Too many hunters" and "Too few deer" are prevalent reasons to quit deer hunting in Utah, so responded hunters in a recent survey.

But, a Utah State University researcher's study shows there has been little change in the deer herd's size in some 40 years.Since the 1970's, a decline in Utah big game license buyers has occurred, said Dennis Austin, a Utah State University wildlife biologist in the Department of Range Science.

"If that trend continues, it will have an adverse effect on Division of Wildlife Resources budgets, size and ability to manage the important resources," said Austin.

Austin made an effort to find out what problems hunters perceive in the present management system. He handed out questionnaires to deer hunters and compiled their answers.

In 1990, one intriguing open-end question asked: "If you were to quit deer hunting in Utah, what reasons would you list?"

One-third of the hunters that responded said too many other hunters were afield. And, almost one out of every six hunters said there were "too few deer."

Private land problems, including posting, were reasons given by 11 percent of the respondents.

"Too few big bucks" was the reason 9 percent of the hunters would hang up their rifles, and another 8 percent said old age or physical problems would end their deer hunting, Austin found.

About one in 17 responded that too few bucks, or high associated costs of hunting or high license costs would cause them to quit.

No areas to hunt or no access to public lands would end hunting for 6 percent, and 5 percent said "slob hunters" would be their reason. Low hunting success would cause another 4 percent to quit; too many all-terrain vehicle and too many road hunters would drive more hunters away from the sport.

Just under 3 percent said "small deer" would be the reason to quit and another 3 percent said children ages 14 and 15 hunting would be their reason to stop deer hunting in Utah.

Other reasons included safety, personal attitude, poor hunt quality, a long, complicated hunting proclamation, too many nonresident hunters, no limits on statewide total licenses sold, better hunting in other states, too few limited entry areas and too many limited entry areas.

Austin said he is a strong advocate of professionals being cognizant of potential changes in hunter attitudes. Without the broad spectrum of knowledge of the hunters' viewpoints, he said, public interest cannot be served.

To respond to causes, he researched aspects of the reasons listed where management could potentially influence change.

Looking into "too few deer" and "too few big bucks," Austin found that since about 1951, there has been no change in the deer population size.

"The great decrease in the percentage of antlerless deer in the harvest under buck-only hunting may give the perception of few deer in the field, but the data from the buck harvest indicates little change in harvest over many years, and that suggests a constant state population. However, the number of antlerless deer harvested has dropped markedly," he said.

Austin said he thinks two reasons for a decrease in antlerless deer may be from unretrieved deer during the rifle hunt and winter kills.

What about big bucks?

Austin researched records on bucks' estimated carcass weight at various state locations and found that pre-1975, 3 to 4 percent of bucks checked were aged 3.5 years and older. After 1986, the same checking stations showed 1 percent.

Austin said 62 percent of the hunters wanted to reduce hunting pressure to increase mature bucks. And, 55 percent said they would rather harvest big bucks infrequently as opposed to taking small bucks frequently.

Austin said mule deer weights, antler size and number of points have decreased generally in the last decade.

In analyzing the age composition of the hunters surveyed, Austin found the mean age of residents was 37; non-residents 43.

He expressed concern at the low number of new hunters - those in the 14 to 24 years of age group, and noted that a small percent of those surveyed listed youngsters 14 and 15 hunting as a reason for abandoning the sport.

His research, however, showed that since the instigation of Utah's award-winning hunter safety program, hunting, even with youngsters afield, has become a low risk sport.

Whereas in the pre-hunter safety days, Utah had about 20 hunting fatalities annually, there are now about three fatal accidents per year.

Hunting ranks about 150th in rate of accidents in sports, the USU wildlife biologist said.